Got soul? Little Steven plays Birmingham with 14 of his mates
I’m coming back, back for what’s mine….
Never have words been more apt. When he returned to solo music earlier in the year with the quite brilliant “Soulfire” record it marked 18 years since the metal stylings of “Born Again Savage” and there is a definite sense that Steven Van Zandt is making up for lost time this evening.
He jokes about it himself. “I know I’ve been away for a while,” he smiles early on tonight. “I spent the last 20 years fucking about being a gangster……”
It is odd, perhaps, that Van Zandt is known by just as many people for being Silvio in The Sopranos as he is for being Little Steven in the E St. Band. You would be jealous of a man normally for having so much success – as if being in the greatest live band of all time isn’t enough he is integral to the second greatest TV show ever (he was never in Minder, which is the best, but we digress), but you have nothing but admiration for SVZ, who is one of the good guys.
Then there’s the solo career, the songs he’s written for others, the albums he’s produced – and if he’d done nothing else in his life then the fact that he is basically the genius behind the genius that is Southside Johnny would be enough. That, by the way, doesn’t even take into account his radio career, his charity work and his business acumen.
The point is, though, that Little Steven – as he most certainly is here with his Disciples Of Soul – is all things to all people, and that is reflected in his mammoth, career spanning set tonight.
The first hour or so concentrates largely on rock n roll right from the Jersey Shore. He is here together with a crack 14 piece band. Astonishingly skilled, these Disciples don’t just follow their leader, but augment what he is doing marvellously.
Whether it’s Tom Petty’s “Even The Losers”, Southside’s aforementioned classic “Coming Back” (written by Van Zandt) or the title track of the new album, there is an energy about the horn section in particular, that crackles. And, when they do “Blues Is My Business” they breathe new life into the Etta James classic, with the three backing singers to the fore.
“After The Good Is Gone” is turned into a recital more or less, with the frontman in full on preacher mode. His religion is music and it saves here. The interpretations of songs he’s been involved in are interesting in scope, because if “Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” is faithful, then “Standing In The Line Of Fire” by Gary US Bonds, finds a new side.
“The City Weeps Tonight” – the bands homage to doo wop – marks a turning point. “Down And Out In New York City” is turned into a lengthy almost jazz jam and while “Princess Of Little Italy” is a stripped back one from his early work, there is also a lot of soul and reggae to follow. “Bitter Fruit” amongst these perhaps is the highlight given that it allows the band the chance to stretch individually.
“Forever” is a stomping rocker to begin the last lap as it were, and “I Don’t Wanna Go Home” and “Out Of The Darkness” follow that thought and take the chequered flag.
You’d perhaps say that he’s underrated as a solo artist – and as a band this is special – but to go under the radar is almost the point. Here is a man, after all that left the E St. Band just as it got to its commercial peak, because he had said he would when they did. He sums it up neatly tonight. “I am gonna re-release my albums next year, they’re kinda hard to get hold of. Mind you I kinda like that you have to find them in thrift stores. I gotta keep my mystique…..”
The effortlessly cool man in his mid-60s and with the bandana is back to play music on his own terms, and like the song (almost) says: ain’t nobody gonna stop him this time…..